Updated: May 24
When teaching your teen how to drive, you have likely covered, or will cover, the basics of the vehicle and how to drive, park, merge, the rules of the road, and inclement weather. You’ve probably also discussed the dangers of drinking and distracted driving.
One topic that parents often forget to talk about with their teens is the danger of driving while drowsy. A recent Virginia Tech Transportation study showed that 20 percent of all car crashes are caused by fatigue. This problem is not limited to new drivers. All drivers tend to overestimate their ability to drive when they are tired, but younger drivers often have unique circumstances.
Between school, sports, extracurricular activities, a job, and social activities, your teen may have a busier schedule than a lot of adults. Is your teen getting enough rest or are they living in a state of exhaustion?
The good news is education and awareness can prevent drowsiness from sneaking up on your teen. Review these points with your new driver.
Know the warning signs. Excessive yawning, trouble keeping eyes open, trouble keeping eyes focused, hitting the rumble strips, memory lapses (not remembering driving the last mile), and a general lack of concentration are all indicators of fatigue.
Prevention. Since most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6:00 a.m., it’s a good idea to set restrictions around what times your teen can drive. In many states, there are laws about how late teenagers under 18 can be out driving. Even if there isn’t a law in your state, you should consider setting that boundary with your new driver.
Being tired, however, can happen at any time of the day. Teens should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night and should be encouraged to stick to a sleep schedule. If you find your teen is struggling to get enough quality sleep or is not feeling rested after 8-9 hours of solid sleep, you may consider making an appointment with a doctor to make sure there is not an underlying issue.
Common tips for drowsy driving like blasting the air conditioner, playing loud music, or rolling down the window are not good substitutes for rest and should not be counted on to help a driver stay awake.
The best thing to do is not to get in the car if you’re feeling tired. The next best thing to do is to pull over in a safe place. Remind your teen that they can call you at any time, day or night. Their safety, and the safety of other drivers, is your main priority.
I think we all know that our kids are smart, and they’re always watching us… and sometimes they pick up our bad behavior! As with all lessons in driving, it’s best if parents lead by example, and that you’re well-rested before driving too.
Learn more about how to coach your teens through common new driver mistakes. Get your free copy of the Safe Driving Coach: Parent's Guide 5 Solutions to Common Teen Driving Mistakes here.
Learn more about The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers online course for parents who want to know how to better coach their teens how to drive!